Kingdom through Covenant Review: Covenant with Noah – A Barrier of Grace (Part 4)

Adam’s failure to keep covenant with Yahweh brought the world in to sin, leading to increased unrighteousness from generation to generation.  Cain killed his brother and the decision was made by God that if anyone took vengeance upon Cain then they would receive sevenfold vengeance upon themselves (Gen. 4:15).  The next we hear of vengeance is from Cain’s line of descendants where Lamech, after killing a young man for striking him, declares that if anyone tries to take vengeance upon him for his actions then they will receive seventy-sevenfold vengeance.  Or, perhaps another way of stating it: “If anyone tries to bring justice upon me for murdering this young man, then I will have their whole family killed.”  The change has gone from Yahweh graciously allowing a man to live out his life (since He has not yet given permission to perform capital punishment) to murderers promoting their own security by threatening destruction to entire families of those who would seek justice.  But it doesn’t end there, as the entire earth is full of “hāmās” (social injustice – like the sort just spoken of).

Yahweh looks down upon all of the unrighteousness and decides to wipe the slate clean, and begin again with a man of righteousness – Noah (Gen. 6:9).  It should be noted that prior to this statement of Noah’s righteousness Yahweh comments that the hearts of humans were only evil continually (Gen. 6:5).  Also, after the flood, before any mention of sin can be found, Yahweh again comments that humans are evil from their youth (Gen. 8:21).  This indicates that Noah was only comparatively righteous – in the midst of an age of social injustice Noah was a man who didn’t get his hands dirty.  “Noah’s actions toward God and toward his fellow man were based on faithfulness and loyalty to his relationship with God.”[1]

Based on the fact that Noah had this relationship with God (making him the most righteous man on earth) Yahweh then chooses to start over again by flooding the earth and having Noah and his immediate family be the progenitors of the new humanity.  So God tells Noah that the covenant at creation, or the Adamic covenant, will be continued with him (Gen. 7:18).  What this means is that Yahweh’s “commitment initiated previously at creation to care for preserve, provide for and rule over all that he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he gave to Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants.”[2]  This, however, does not mean that Noah could have undone the curse upon mankind by representing them, but rather God is about to prove that even if the most righteous man on earth were to start the population over again then there would still be no hope.

The fact that God is continuing the covenant at creation is seen by the fact that Yahweh says “hēqîm bĕrît” (continue/uphold a previously made covenant) in Genesis 6:18 and not “kārat bĕrît” (make a new covenant).  Gentry argues from an exhaustive study (meaning all possibly variants were reviewed within their own context) to demonstrate that “hēqîm bĕrît” always means “continue/uphold a covenant” and “kārat bĕrît” always means “begin a new covenant.”[3]

The brilliance of Moses’ authorship ought to be noted at this point, as the parallels made between the creation account and the flood are by no means small or easily written off as coincidental.  They can be seen below:

1)      Just as God’s Spirit hovered over the abyss, so God sends a winder over the engulfing waters to renew the earth.

2)      Just as God initially divided the waters, God re-gathers the waters, re-establishing the boundaries of sky and earth.

3)      Just as God separated the dry, arable ground from the water to sustain vegetation, so again the dry ground emerges in successive stages.

4)      The sky once again houses winged creatures (plural), as God first proclaimed it so to be.

5)      The living creatures are called forth to walk upon the earth again, similarly as they were called forth in creation.

6)      Just as Yahweh spoke and humanity came in to existence, so Yahweh calls Noah and his family out from the ark to walk upon the earth as His image bearers once again.

7)      Just as Yahweh blessed humanity to be fruitful and multiply, so He does so again with Noah and his family.  Except now He adds a helping agent: the animals will now fear humanity, which will help them rule over them.

We can see that Moses, by God’s inspiration, accurately represented historical truth in a stylistic form that paralleled the creation phases to the flood phases.  The parallels exist in order to invite the reader to look at Noah as a new Adam starting over again on the earth.

One may notice that there is no parallel for day 4, where Yahweh makes the stars, sun and moon.  I proposed to Dr. Gentry the possibility that a parallel can be seen in the fact that the stars were put in the sky as a sign for the seasons, and that in the flood account Yahweh promises to keep the seasons going and then places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant.  The rainbow, admittedly, is primarily as a sign that Yahweh will not flood the earth again, but that doesn’t change the fact that the continuance of the seasons is part of this same covenant (8:22).  Gentry remains unconvinced, but perhaps the reader will think otherwise.  This is my rendition:

If one were to notice that Gentry’s phases follow in chronological order along with the Creation account, while mine do not, I would propose that the timing of when the first rainbow appears is not mentioned.  The beginning of the covenant happened before the flood (Gen. 6:18), and so it would not be inappropriate for the rainbow to appear once the storm that was flooding the earth came to an end – most likely somewhere between Gentry’s phase 2 and phase 4.

Whether one is convinced by my rendition or not, the parallels clearly do exist in Gentry’s version and they come in clear chronological order.  However, this is by no means the end of the parallels.  The terms of the covenant with Noah can be seen to parallel the terms of the covenant with Adam – as one would expect from a continued covenant.  But, before looking at how the two parallel, it’s worth noting the structure of chapter 9 that has been painstakingly designed:

The stipulations and terms are easily identified once the bookends that block them off are seen.  Now we can see the four terms of the covenant:

1)      The bookends themselves are part of the terms: man is to multiply and fill the earth.  Adam and eve received the same command/blessing.  This command, which comes in the form of a blessing, is rebelled against at Babel when the people refuse to fill the earth and instead gather in one location.  God then punishes them for this rebellion.  Note: God is not afraid of human accomplishment, as some would say.  But rather He does not want rebellion to continue increasing at such a rapid rate.  Apparently, humans working together accomplish things faster – this is especially true for sin.

2)      In Genesis humanity was told to rule over the creatures – the command is given again, but this time is stated in the means by which they shall be helped in accomplishing this rule over the world: animals will now fear them.

3)      Just as food was given to the living creatures on the earth (vegetation) in the beginning, so now animals are also given as food (for each other to eat, and for man to eat).  The exception being that blood must not be eaten – this is symbolic of life, and humans do not have the right to take life for themselves, they only have the right to give it back to God by pouring the blood out upon the earth.

4)      Just as humanity was formed as a family unit (male and female, for the purpose of reproduction), and made in the priceless image of God, so humanity is given the responsibility of acting out retributive justice upon their family members: those who destroy the image of God are to be destroyed by others who bear that image.  One should note that this is the first time in the Hebrew text, since Genesis 4, that the term “brother” is used.  Genesis 9:5 literally states “from his brother’s hand I require justice.” The idea is not that the sibling of the murderer must kill the murderer, but that all of humanity is a family and that the human family is given the commission to enact justice upon the murderer.  This mean the whole family, i.e., the government, is responsible.

With the terms of the covenant proclaimed, Yahweh then asserts that this covenant is upheld for all of creation (Gen (9:8-17) and also details the promise of the covenant: Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth (Gen. 9:11).  This covenant is also given a sign, the bow in the sky.  The Hebrews had no word for rainbow, and just called it a “bow,” like what was used for war and hunting.  In the words of Warren Austin Gage: “the bow is a weapon of war, an emblem of wrath.  God will now set it in the heavens as a token of grace.  The Lord who makes his bow of wrath into a seven-colored arch of beauty to ornament the heavens is the one who will finally command the nations to beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Mic. 4:3).”[4]

This covenant is said to be an everlasting covenant (8:21; 9:11; 15, 16).  The relevance of this is that it provides a barrier of grace that protects rebellious humanity from total annihilation by Yahweh’s wrath until He fulfills His salvation plans.  Yahweh, in order to prove how great the New Covenant will be, explains that His wrath never again come upon His people in the New Covenant, just as the floods would never again come upon the earth (Isa. 54:9-10).  The fact that this covenant is still continuing today can be seen by the fact that another flood has not eliminated all of humanity, and by the fact that rainbows still appear in the sky.

Before we look at the Covenant with Abraham in the next post, it’s worthwhile to notice that this covenant is why we are “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22).  The Adamic covenant continues today, as it was upheld and continued with Noah.  Everyone who is born in to the world is born in to the covenant that began at creation and was set in place permanently when it was upheld with Noah.  This covenant is a doomed covenant where its representative failed, and Noah proved himself just as bad when he went off and became a drunken curser of his children.

If one is still in doubts regarding whether Noah functions as a new Adam in the whole biblical storyline, then the following illustration adapted from Gage is worth of observation.[5]  It ought to be emphasized again, however, that this does not mean that Noah could function in the same way as Adam in terms of representing humanity.  Sin was already in the world, and Yahweh did not cut a new covenant with Noah, He only continued the doomed one with him in order to prove that even starting over with the most righteous man is not sufficient.  This also created a “new world” theme, in which there are three new worlds presented in the text of the Bible.  The first created world of Adam, the re-created world of Noah, and the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Three being the number of perfection (the Trinity should come to mind) in the scriptures.

It should be noted that continuing of this covenant with Noah also makes Noah the new priest-king on the earth.  His priesthood can be seen by the fact that Noah offers sacrifices to Yahweh (8:20). His kingship can be seen by the fact that this man is the father of the new world – he’s king of the world.  As the new priest-king he decides who is blessed and who is cursed (Gen. 9:25-27).  Unfortunately, like Adam, Noah is a failed priest-king.  Perhaps the next significant priest-king in presented in the text will perform better?

[1] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 151.

[2] Ibid., 161.

[3] Ibid., 155.

[4] Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Winona Lake, IN: Carpenter, 1984), 135.

[5] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 176.


About salutations75

Born and raised Atheist turned Reformed Baptist.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Kingdom Through Covenant, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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